Art Detour 23: Why Artlink Should Let Go of Its Own Event ... and Itself

Categories: Events, Reviews
Art Detour's still on for the Third weekend of March, sans trolleys.
In an effort not to smash the piñata or prematurely blow out the birthday candles, I waited until Artlink's 22nd birthday was officially over to say it:

It's time to go.

By go, I mean disband, fizzle out, cut the losses. Take your much-deserved bows on your way out the door, Artlink -- recognize that you've served a purpose in the local arts community and brought a large number of downtown galleries into the spotlight

And face the fact that you're no longer needed.

It's a good thing. Phoenix is lucky (yes, lucky) to have the arts community that it does - Roosevelt Row, Grand Avenue and the Melrose District, to name the largest three, strongly support their galleries and are working together to connect their audiences (hopefully by staying open during normal business hours), and to bridge the small distance gaps between each other.

This partnership was never more obvious than at an arts community meeting over the weekend to discuss and game plan for Artlink's pay-to-play Art Detour, which is NOT this weekend.

Art Detour works like this: Galleries pay Artlink $100 and in exchange are included in official Detour marketing and advertising. This fee used to include shuttle services between galleries and placement on a fancy map, but Artlink President Sloane Burwell says there will be no trolleys this year and representative Mike Oleskow says the map will depend on time and resources (read: unlikely).

Um, so what are galleries getting for $100? And just what is Artlink doing to earn it? The truth is that the organization simply isn't needed any longer.

Blame the bad economy or simply maturation, but "rogue" is in, and galleries throughout Phoenix have begun to participate in the event without paying - they simply create facebook events, pass out fliers, and open their doors with art on the wall for a weekend. Gallery owners have even agreed to use their own Detour artwork to promote the upcoming event and are using uniform yellow balloons to indicate participation instead of relying on a map.

Burwell says Detour is like First Friday, in that galleries host art openings, and unlike First Friday in that it's meant to introduce people from all over the state to different galleries during the day, for a whole weekend.

OK. But one of the biggest things Art Detour had going for it (along with maps and trolleys) was the fact that people knew to expect it on the first weekend of March. Now that's gone, too.    

This year, Artlink decided to change the dates of Detour from the traditional first weekend of March to the third weekend. Seems like a small enough change, but if you've been in this city for long enough, you'll know change is hard to make and the new dates have regular Detour attendees and artists alike confused (just see the slew of events posted for this weekend that still read "Detour Opening!").    

Art Detour is one of Artlink's main functions, though Burwell insists that the nonprofit is looking to expand in education efforts. And Art Detour is a great idea, which is why it's been around for such a long time. But in the meantime, Artlink has changed -- membership numbers have dwindled, they no longer coordinate shuttles for detour or First Friday, and the only maps they provide are now printed in the Downtown Journal.

And as Artlink has evolved (or devolved, really) the Phoenix art scene has grown up too, and what it doesn't need anymore is a supervisor.

Check out plenty of group exhibitions, solo shows, and performances during this year's Art Detour on Saturday, March 19 from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Sunday, March 20 from noon to 5 p.m. in any downtown gallery with a yellow balloon.

More information can be found at this event page (or this one), and yeah, I'll be making a map.

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As a long time advocate for a thriving downtown art scene ( since circa 1990..yep, a long time) I have witnessed and actively participated for years in the evolution of both Art Detour and then First Friday. It has been a fascinating 2 decades of change and growth. I don't think anyone back in the days imaged the sheer volume of people that now support the downtown art scene by attending the many events scheduled throughout the year.Once upon a time there was only Art Detour-it was huge because it was the only time you could see a critical mass of art in one fell swoop. That has changed. I have noticed that Art Detour audiences have dwindled and it is of no surprise. The urgency to head downtown one weekend in March is no longer there. Art Detour essentially happens...well, every First Friday.So, the story goes. We evolve and change with the time.Perhaps Claire is pointing out the inevitable but some things die hard.Other comments here have noted that Art Link does more than just Art Detour. Maybe it is time for Art Link to refocus their energy in new directions.


I'm new to Phoenix and am really interested in the first Friday/Artdetour events. But it's really hard to get info on events since Artlink never updates their website. That seems like an easy way to keep info out there about events that requires minimal time and money of that's a factor.

Kevin P
Kevin P

As the Phoenix Arts have evolved and changed, so do the organizations that support them. ArtLink should stick around, there is no reason to waste all those years of effort.


Again, valid points made. Artlink could certainly be doing more with its resources to provide the galleries with a forum for their work.But, Artlink now runs two galleries, one at Civic Space and one at Heritage Square. Additionally, I see it as a positive to include their map with the Downtown Phoenix Journal. It's a sign of downtown groups coming together to support a common cause, and expose their message to a new audience.In regards to the date change, Artlink has changed the date of Art Detour before, to mixed success. This time around, I see it as a definite positive with the overload of events happening on the first weekend of March. Also, it makes sense to group the event with the artist-oriented Third Fridays, as opposed to the party-oriented First Fridays, giving true artists the chance to stage the events they want to have, and showcase their wares to an audience that cares bout creativity, not just getting loaded.Just some things to consider.

Steve Weiss
Steve Weiss

This is a very short note about one small part of your article. I and others could have a stream of conversations about this subject, but I note one small part.

In the spring, this town goes Festival Nutz.

If Art Detour was this weekend, it would be competing with the M7/Melrose Fair and the Heard Museum Annual Indian Market.I won't say that when Art Detour happens, there won't be some other festival happening, but I do know the M7/Melrose previously pulled audience from Art Detour. Whether that was a conscious decision or not, I have no idea.

Susan D.
Susan D.

Am I missing something here? So I get to drive around and look at a bunch of galleries. Other than the yellow balloons and the day of the week, what exactly separates art detour from first/third fridays?? serious question, i'm really not sure.


It's a 3 day event which allows for getting to gslleries u may usually skip on First Friday, there are daytime hours. there are kids activities at some venues, it includes artist studios as well ad galleries, and most venues show their best and most popular talent that weekend.

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